Listen: MLA anti-boycott vote could encourage repression

Dozens of scholars have condemned a recent vote by members of the Modern Language Association (MLA) to “refrain from endorsing” the academic boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in violations of Palestinian rights.

The adoption of an explicitly anti-boycott measure by the MLA, the main academic association for scholars of language and literature, represents “support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and will fortify the repressive measures already targeting individuals and campuses where the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and activism for Palestinian human rights take place,” the scholars warn in an open letter.

The June vote followed a rejection of the academic boycott by the MLA’s delegate assembly in January.

Leading opponents of the academic boycott by the MLA include English professor Cary Nelson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who revealed in 2014 that he was directly advising national Zionist organizations in their campaign against Steven Salaita.

Salaita, a Palestinian American professor of American Indian studies, was terminated by that university’s chancellor two weeks before the academic term was to begin, over tweets he made condemning Israel’s 2014 massacre in Gaza.

Outside Israel advocacy groups campaigned against the boycott ahead of the vote, according to Israeli media.

Gilad Erdan, who spearheads the effort by Israel’s strategic affairs ministry to suppress the growth of the BDS movement, told The Times of Israel that the MLA’s anti-BDS vote dealt “a major blow to ongoing efforts by the BDS movement for an academic boycott of Israel.”

Erdan’s ministry is reportedly engages in secret “black ops” which, according to a veteran Israeli analyst, may involve “defamation campaigns, harassment and threats to the lives of activists” as well as “infringing on and violating their privacy.”

Salah Hassan of Michigan State University told The Electronic Intifada podcast that the external pressure by Israel lobby groups and Israel’s strategic affairs ministry “played a role – and especially were important in that this had to be a victory for them in order to roll back the successes of BDS over the last five years.”

At a time when state and federal legislatures are passing anti-BDS laws – while universities are clamping down on Palestine activism and silencing students and faculty – the resolution “will go a long way in encouraging repression at all levels,” said Rebecca Comay of the University of Toronto.

“Online and offline harassment, defamation, investigations, even threats to faculty and students who are supportive of or politically active in Palestinian solidarity – it fuels the fire of the repressive movements, both official and unofficial, on campuses everywhere.”

She added that the vote gives “tacit credence to much of the misinformation that is spread about” BDS, including the claim that it is “anti-semitic,” she told The Electronic Intifada podcast.

“In the short run, this [resolution] will have a destructive effect on the culture of dissent,” Comay warned.

“Honest conversation”

Meanwhile, Canadian activists are pushing the center-left New Democratic Party (NDP) to adopt a more progressive policy on Palestine.

Recently, Palestine rights organizers sent an open letter to NDP members outlining the current problems with the party’s platform on Palestinian rights.

While the NDP purports to be a progressive party, organizers point out that the leadership has failed to stand up for Palestinian rights and has adopted centrist or conservative policies that mirror the US Democratic Party’s support for Israel.

Activist Yazan Khader told The Electronic Intifada podcast that organizers want the NDP to recognize that “there is a hunger out there – not only among NDP members but Canadians who are outside of [activist] circles – to have an honest conversation” about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

An opinion poll earlier this year found large majorities of Canadians, especially NDP voters, are highly critical of Israel and strongly support measures to hold Israel accountable for violations of Palestinian rights.

Listen to the interviews with Rebecca Comay, Salah Hassan and Yazan Khader via the media player above.

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

Music break: “Pain” by Palestine Street

Subscribe to The Electronic Intifada podcast on Apple Podcast (search for The Electronic Intifada). Support our podcast by rating us and leaving a review.

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I have supported the Federal NDP in the past and would urge the new leadership to look very carefully at their policy regarding the the Palestinian people .BDS is a peaceful process whereby people can voice their opinion .To suppress this movement is an infringement on our basic human rights .
Calling BDS antisemitic is a red herring. In order to have peace in the middle East , the facts on the ground must be explored and exposed , otherwise we, as citizens of the world sanction oppression.
More and more young Jewish people are realizing that the policy of Israel is going in the wrong direction.
Lets have the discussion .

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).